The Cage Keeper and Other Stories (Book Review)

“The Cage Keeper and Other Stories” is a collection of seven short stories by Andre Dubus III. The originality of this collection lies in the potency of the characters and the author’s microscopic viewpoint of the human condition.

Externally, the stories in this collection focus on characters from the rougher roads of life with some link to captivity. Most of the characters–main or secondary–are either workers in a prison, or have done some prison time, or are going to prison in a short time. Internally, however, the true imprisonment of the characters comes from their insides and their vulnerability concerning an unfinished business or an unsolved life problem. In all the stories, conflicting emotions intermingle while the characters seek acceptance from themselves and from others.

The first story, “The Cage Keeper,” is the one with the most fully developed plot. Even so, the reader is more impressed with the characters in the story than the plot, which involves an escaped convict and his hostage, a young prison guard.

The second story, “The Duckling Girl,” is about an incest victim who willingly takes more abuse from cruel teen-age boys.

The third story, “Wolves in the Marsh” is about a young boy’s coming of age as he goes hunting alone.

The fourth story, “Forky,” is about an ex-convict who has done seven years of time. As he relates to a woman he has picked up in a bar, he remembers a fellow prisoner who has reminded him of his brother.

Fifth Story, “Mountains,” is told from the viewpoint of Sally, a waitress, loving a Vietnam vet with posttraumatic stress syndrome.

Sixth Story, “White Trees, Hammer Moon,” is about a man named Rory, a loser in life and a father figure who is about to go to prison. In the story, Rory botches up a camping trip with two children in the mountains of New Hampshire.

Seventh story, “Last Dance,” is about a turtle hunt where the young character Reilly reminisces of a woman while the turtle hunt is described in detail.

“The Cage Keeper and Other Stories” is in paperback with 224 pages and ISBN: 9780375727740.

The most outstanding features of the book are the hauntingly real characters in the stories and the author’s eloquence and mastery with the use of the English language.

The author, Andre Dubus III, after getting a sociology degree, decided to write and then worked as a bounty hunter, private investigator, carpenter, bartender, actor, and teacher. Andre Dubus III has won numerous literary awards and prizes from a Pushcart Prize to being a finalist for 1999 national Book Award. He lives in Massachusetts with his family and teaches in Emerson College’s MFA in writing program and at Tufts University. Besides “The Cage Keeper and Other Stories,” he has novels such as “Bluesman” and “House of Sand and Fog.”

I am deeply impressed with the insight and empathy of the writer into the spirits of his characters. Any aspiring fiction writer will learn a lot about character development by reading Andre Dubus III, especially “The Cage Keeper and Other Stories.”